International Office creates new home for old friends

Pictured above is the brand new Office of International Services, which will provide administrative space, as well as room for event hosting and community gatherings. Courtesy of Laura (Ruoxi) Yang.

While Poughkeepsie was windy, cold and a mess outdoors on Jan. 30, the Office of International Services (OIS) was having an open house for its new office—complete with hot chocolate, tea and brownies. On the same day, I got to see a lot of international friends after break. We hugged, chatted and hugged again, as per usual. This time, however, the reunion did not happen on the way to class or at rush hour in the Deece, but in CC237, the beautiful new space for OIS.

I remember being in an intern meeting at the beginning of last semester, when Assistant Dean of the College for Campus Life and Director of International Services Andrew Meade proudly announced, “We are going to have a new space!” For a long time, Meade had been asking (if not fighting) for a space for internationals—not only for interns to work in, but also for the general international student body to spend time with each other. With the capacity to host more events in our own designated space and the chance to create a more accessible environment for students to simply step into, OIS’s new office is likely to help internationals solidify their presence on campus. So this was definitely an exciting piece of news.

However, euphoric excitement often comes with some degree of disappointment. As all of us took a trip to CC237, we quickly realized that we had a lot of work to do: come up with a floor plan, brainstorm ideas for furniture and engage in a great deal of heavy lifting and moving (from the old office at Main South 185) before we could call the space our own. Facing this empty expanse, I simply couldn’t envision a new office.

My second time in CC237, it had officially become the new space for international students. A week before the semester started, Meade sent an email, subject-lined “OIS past, present, and future.” With the help of two students over winter break— Ivy Chen ’21 and Anne-Marie Abban ’21— everything from the old office got boxed up and moved into the new one. “Moving was not super stressful,” Abban later informed me, “but what was stressful was packing and finding boxes to use.”

After winter break, all the interns were responsible for unpacking the boxes and figuring out where the stuff should go. So there we were, with the past memories of OIS settled in boxes filled with various trinkets—from fairy lights and files to sharpies and photo albums—lying in front of us. As we tried to decide where to begin, scattered and disoriented questions flew across the room: “Should we start with stationery?” “Wow, we should put up these nice posters on the wall!” “Why do we have 10 file stands? They should go away.” “I am going to put this Romanian doll here!”

Going through one box after another, wiping off the dust and occasionally throwing items away, we found ourselves reminiscing over the history of our office and the nostalgic time spent with the many faces of the international student body. The colorful posters took me on a world tour of the successful Around-the-World series we’ve done, featuring food and culture in different parts of the world. The four extra packages of graham crackers transported me to international orientation nights with s’mores. The files of people that have already graduated made me wonder: Where were they from? How did they like Vassar? How was OIS back then?

Picking up, organizing or throwing away belongings is itself a process of remembering and forgetting. It was then that I realized that the “stuff” was not only stuff, and “moving” was not merely moving— but transforming, changing and growing. In this process of dealing with the past, I also started to think: what do we want the future to be like? With a larger space that is more well-connected to students, what do we want to create?

For international students, “home” is always the answer—not only in the sense of where we are from, but also in the sense of where we are connected and rooted, where we feel comfortable and safe. One of OIS’s goals is to create such a home for internationals. Currently, we are in the midst of conceptualizing a community bookshelf that welcomes literature in a variety of languages. We have cultural artifacts on display from all over the world (a lot of them donated by internationals in the past) and there will be a picture and postcard wall filled with students’ experiences from across the globe.

Other than creating a sense of home by adding our own touches, we want all internationals to be part of building this “home.” So we welcome cultural organizations to hold meetings here, we hope to hold various kinds of events and we look forward to exploring other possibilities. Overall, this new center is a space that welcomes international students to spend time with each other, to escape from stress and to bond over good music, good snacks and most importantly, good conversations.

Day by day, the new space feels increasingly like home. Interns no longer work in the rarely-visited, arguably less welcoming office we had prior to this one; people come in to study and chat on the couch while drinking hot chocolate. Meade sometimes walks in from his office next door and catches up with students he might’ve met only once during events. As of now, we are still deciding on new furniture, a better layout of the room and some operational rules for the common space. Meanwhile, even though it will be a while until the next official “open house,” OIS is always open.

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